Do or Die: Liverpool face a must-win match at Lyon in the Champions League

Lyon v Liverpool, Champions League, November 4, 2009

Lyon 5/4; Draw 23/10; Liverpool 13/8

A week is a long time in football and just six days after Liverpool recorded their must win victory over Manchester United, two defeats in four days have left Rafa Benitez and the Merseyside giants back in crisis territory.

It can at times be difficult to quantify just how much of a “crisis” teams really are in due to the pace of modern sports news. Defeat at Arsenal was a minor blow as currently Liverpool would welcome a Carling Cup triumph and the loss at Fulham was more serious as Rafa Benitez’s side are now all but out of contention to win the Premier League. But, failure to reach the Champions League knockout stages could have far reaching repercussions.

Liverpool travel to France in a precarious position in Group E. Lyon lead the table after three matches played, six points ahead of the Reds with Fiorentina in second with a three point gap separating The Viola and Liverpool. Bearing in mind that the Serie A side are heavy favourites to see off Debrecen at home (they beat them 4-3 away on the last match day), even a draw in France could leave Liverpool in a very precarious position.

Rafa Benitez seemed to have acknowledged the importance of this match by substituting Fernando Torres (6/4 to score) when the scores were tied at 1-1 at Craven Cottage. With Steven Gerrard (8/1 to score last) almost certain to miss the clash with Lyon and perhaps go under the knife, Benitez clearly feels he has no choice but to wrap El Nino in cotton wool.

Glen Johnson is another likely absentee along with Spanish winger Albert Riera who is definitely out which means the likes of Ryan Babel (25/1 to score a brace) and Andriy Voronin are going to have to stand up and be counted in support of Torres. Yossi Benayoun (9/1 to score first) was also withdrawn in the second half against Fulham and the Israeli playmaker, one of the few bright spots for Liverpool this season, is another who will be tasked with producing the goods on the break alongside Torres.

Lyon should be full of confidence coming into this match, chomping at the bit to bag another famous victory over Liverpool after their 2-1 win at Anfield just two weeks ago. Claude Puel’s men immediately followed up that Champions League result with a surprise 4-1 defeat to Nice but on Saturday returned to winning ways as Bafetimbi Gomis (10/1 to score a brace) claimed a late winner against his old club Saint Etienne to silence the home fans who had booed his appearance as a substitute.

Gomis is just one of many attacking players who could send Benitez and his side into another even graver crisis. Miralem Pjanic (14/1 to score first & Lyon win) is a quality playmaker, who has this season lived up to his nickname as the “new Juninho.” Summer signings Lisandro Lopez (15/2 to score first & Lyon win) and Michel Bastos also have the quality to put the Reds to the sword. The quality of the OL squad is illustrated by the fact that substitutes Maxime Gonalons and Cesar Delgado were the scorers at Liverpool in the first game between the two sides.

In these dark days Liverpool fans have turned back the clock to the triumphant season of 2004/2005 with Steven Gerrard’s famous late goal against Olympiakos for inspiration. It is easy to forget that the Istanbul final heroics were preceded by a dramatic group stage that saw the Merseyside giants sneak through.

In the equivalent group game of 2004/2005, Liverpool won 1-0 at Deportivo La Coruna (13/2 to repeat that scoreline). A Jorge Andrade own goal was the difference in early November 2004, with Igor Biscan immense in place of the injured Xabi Alonso. Liverpool may need similar luck and some bit-part players to step up at the Stade Gerland on Wednesday. Despite the turnaround since the United victory, a result against the odds could yet turn Liverpool’s season.

101gg predicts: Lyon 1 – Liverpool 2 (8/1)

Lyon 5/4; Draw 23/10; Liverpool 13/8

Full match odds here.